Science Communication & Outreach
I’ve recently returned from the adventure of a lifetime with the United States Antarctic Program (USAP). I am the ongoing Science Communicator and Outreach Ambassador for a joint research mission between URI-GSO, UCSB, and the University of Otago. In late January (2017), we flew in a military cargo plane to McMurdo Station, Antarctica, experienced life at McMurdo, and hiked the volcanic slopes of Ross Island. Then we boarded the RVIB Nathaniel B. Palmer, broke ice through the frozen Ross Sea while setting up the research vessel's laboratories, then cruised north into the Southern Ocean, the windiest, roughest, and most remote water on Earth—in our continuing quest to better understand some factors affecting our planet's climate.
We sailed through a force ten gale, a blizzard obscuring massive icebergs all around us. Thousands of miles from land, we rocked and pitched in wild storms, performing oceanographic operations and experiments, including retrieving samples from the deep-sea floor. We lived, worked, and played on a science research vessel and icebreaker for 42 days, saw penguins, orcas, seals, humpback whales, dolphins, albatrosses, petrels, and a myriad of other seabirds, and watched the awe-inspiring shift and ripple of the Aurora Australis.
Aboard the Palmer, our team studied microscopic plants called diatoms—a kind of phytoplankton, which produce the oxygen in every second breath you take. Glass-shelled and intricate, diatoms feed our oceans, providing nutrition for zooplankton and krill, prey for many species. Without diatoms, which take up massive amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide during photosynthesis, our world would be unrecognizable.
But the concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere is rising, unlocked during our burning of fossil fuels, causing the warming of our atmosphere and oceans, changes in weather patterns, ocean acidification, and rising sea levels. Our team wants to better understand the processes that have driven atmospheric CO2 change in the past so we can better understand how humanity might tackle rising CO2 levels in an uncertain future*.
*This will need to be a global effort—scientists, governments, corporations, community groups, and citizens working together. We cannot wait. We need to act immediately. The problem is real, and it's serious. I urge you not to be complacent or complicit.
As Science Communicator and Outreach Ambassador, I blogged about our voyage and science operations, answered questions from schools and the public, managed social media, built and maintained the expedition website, worked with our scientists as a developmental editor and writing mentor, and visually chronicled our journey in photographs and illustrations.
I am now completing a middle grade nonfiction science adventure book and writing and illustrating a lyrical non-fiction picture book inspired by the experience.
I look forward to my next high-seas Sci-Comm adventure! If you'd like to know more or have me come speak to your school or group about my experience or about science communication, please contact me.